My love affair with world cinema began nearly a decade ago when I watched French hit, Amelie (2001). Previously I had been reluctant to watch any film with subtitles, worried that it would hinder my enjoyment of the film. How wrong was I to be so naive? Since Amelie I have spent more time in the world cinema section at HMV than any other part of the shop and enjoyed a range of films from South America, Africa, Europe and East Asia. Discussing all my favourites would take many blogs but over the next ten days I will share what are currently, for me, the Top Ten World Cinema films. The standard of world cinema is very high with such gems as Ikiru (1952) and Let The Right One In (2008) missing out on the Top Ten. For those of you that haven’t tried world cinema I hope some of these films will be of interest. Those of you that are veterans in this field, I’m sure you won’t agree with all of my choices but I’ve no doubt you’ll appreciate a celebration of what is often an overlooked section in DVD shops.
Battle Royale (2000)
Based on Koushun Takami’s controversial novel, Kinji Fukasaku’s film retains the essence of the book and remains the best example of world cinema I have had the pleasure of watching. That said I had my reservations about it when my brother first told me about the film. Battle Royale is set in the 21st century when Japanese society is in disarray, unemployment is rising and students at schools are worse than they have ever been. As a last resort the government passes the BR Act (Battle Royale) which ordains that each year a random class from a random school is abducted by the military and forced to partake of a cruel game. Each student is permitted to take their school bag, food supplies and also a second bag containing a random item which may be useful – a gun, a samurai sword – or something useless – a fan, a pot lid or binoculars. The class of students are released on a remote island and given three days to kill each other. If after three days more than one student is alive then they are all killed. For tracking purposes and to ensure everyone abides by the rules, the students each have collars with an explosive inside. To prevent anyone taking cover on the island, there are designated zones with a teacher back at headquarters announcing via speakers which zones are the danger ones at specific times of day. Should a student be in a zone during this time then their collars will detonate! The same fate awaits them if they try to leave the island.
The film keeps a counter of how many students are left as the story progresses and it becomes ever more gripping as only a handful remain. Not all students’ fates are accounted for but the film does impressively reveal the majority of endings for the classmates. Some refuse to partake of the game and choose suicide, others form groups and try to evade other students, but many quite worryingly have no issue with resorting to murder to ensure their survival. The film is violent but what is intriguing about it is although the content is controversial I find it fascinating how these many individuals respond to their predicaments. In the Roman amphitheatres slaves were forced to fight to the death for entertainment and here we have a similar scenario. A class of loyal friends, bullies, couples and love struck teenagers are each able to face up to their separate grievances. Some students have the chance to get back at the bullies, while others decide they can now tell a fellow student that they have longed to be with them. Friendships are also ruined as suspicion and paranoia take over individual groups. One group of girls who seem loyal to one another end up involved in a heated argument before guns are drawn and all end up dead!
Although the film reveals the fates of many students the primary focus is on two of the classmates, Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and Noriko (Aki Maeda). Shuya sees his best friend killed before the game has even begun by former teacher, Kitano (Beat Takeshi Kitano), but he doesn’t resort to violence himself, instead choosing to protect Noriko. Shuya and Noriko join with the rest of the class in a fight for survival but have the added complication of two other participants – Shogo (Taro Yamamoto) and Kiriyama (Masanobu Ando). Shogo is something of a mystery but crosses paths with Shuya and Noriko and the trio help each other. Kiriyama is in the game purely for bloodshed and is a relentless killing machine, seeing off more of the students than any other participant in the game.
Battle Royale is fast-paced and action-packed once the students have been released on the island. No sooner has Shuya left the army headquarters than he comes under attack. There are some brilliant exchanges particularly where the ruthless Kiriyama is involved and although many of the students are self-serving in trying to survive others sacrifice themselves to save others. As the number of students is gradually whittled down over the designated three days the audience will be intrigued how the film turns out in the end. There can be only one winner of the game but some of the students are striving to find a way out of their predicament, the question is are they successful? The ending of the film is fantastic but who wins the game in the end is not for me to say. A sequel did follow in 2003 but came nowhere near capturing the thrilling experience of its predecessor. If one can look beyond the controversial subject matter there is a world cinema masterpiece waiting to be discovered in Battle Royale.
1) Battle Royale
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